Taking a road trip is not only a great way to see a country from a unique perspective, it’s also a rite of passage for many of us. Getting together with your mates or with your family, packing up the car, making sure you have all the driving music ready to blast out as you head off into the sunset. There really is no better way to get a true feel for a country than by hitting the open road -- you also get to choose when and where you stop, which view to soak in whilst you eat your lunch, which sunset you’re looking at over dinner -- or if roughing it isn’t your style, which hotel or guesthouse to cozy down for the night in.
To maximize the fun of your trip, you should prepare well, expect the unexpected and make sure you’re legally sound to make the journey before you set out. Take a load off your mind and get ready the right way. Here are some pointers.
First things first. Your vehicle of choice should be chosen based on several factors, but above all else -- reliability. No road trip would be complete without the occasional tire change or an oil leak, but make sure whichever vehicle you intend to use is up to the task before you set off. Take it to a mechanic for a once over for peace of mind, and be sure to check over the safety features. Another major factor to take into account is the amount of buddies you’re taking along -- cramming five people into a small city car for a short hop across town is one thing, but for long distances, comfort is a must. Also, consider if you need a camper van -- a good option even if you do plan to stay in the occasional hostel. The terrain you’ll be crossing is another factor to bear in mind -- there are long stretches of dirt road in Australia (as well as the regular tarmac highways), and you need your car or van to be able to cut the mustard -- and don’t forget that a number of these roads might require the use of a vehicle with 4WD, so if your vehicle isn’t equipped, it would be wise to plan ahead and plan an alternate route to avoid getting potentially stuck.
Preparation and precautions
‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ goes the saying, and this is incredibly fitting for road trips.
If you are staying in hostels along the way it’s worth checking if there are secure places to park up for the night. If you’re traveling through or near bigger cities such as Sydney or Melbourne then overnight, long-term parking can be found at airports and can often be booked online. Should you find yourself out west, you needn’t worry, as you can utilise the services offered by Parkos through which you can find Perth airport parking that is safe, secure and affordable.
Having the latest GPS system or the top smartphone on the market running Google maps is all well and good, but make sure you have some good old fashioned maps with you -- those phone batteries have a nifty way of draining just when you need them most. The more detailed maps you can find (along with a compass) the better, especially if you’re heading into the remote outback. Travel insurance is also highly recommended -- check what you’re covered for carefully when you sign up.
Fill your tanks and mark your maps
Bear in mind that there are large stretches of road in Australia which are extremely sparsely populated, so when you pass a gas station it’s wise to fill up, even if you’re half full (and some additional canisters are a must) -- you never know when you’ll next get an opportunity to fill up. Mark maps with filling stations and hostels (if you’re staying at them) to keep track of how far you may be from one at any given point during the journey. Drinking water is essential as well -- pack much more than you think you’re going to need. Make sure you have a spare tire and a jack -- it might be a good idea to take along a full car tool kit if you’re heading into the wilderness.
Rules and road etiquette
Australians drive on the left side of the road. Speed will limits vary depending on what kind of road you’re on, but they also vary state to state, so make sure you know where you are (essential on any road trip) and keep within the appropriate limits. Watch for wildlife -- aside from wild kangaroos and wombats, in very rural areas grazing cattle may wander into your path. If you see someone broken down on the side of the road it’s common courtesy (and a karma boost) to stop and see if you can help in some way. Raise your index finger (be sure it is the index and not a different one!) to acknowledge a vehicle you overtake. Wearing a seat belt is compulsory and will result in a fine if you are caught without one on. You should also check if you need your licence translated before you start out.
If you set out ill-prepared for a road trip your chances of enjoying it are greatly diminished. So do your homework, keep your wits about you, pack properly, get a great motor and get out on the open road!